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Game Preview: Bearcats Hungry for More as Alabama A&M Enters Queen City

Cincinnati is 2-0 for the first time since the 2017-18 season.

CINCINNATI — Bearcats men's basketball is off to the program's best start in four years, and they'll try to keep matching that seven-game winning streak to open the 2017-18 campaign when they take on Alabama A&M.

The 1-1 Bulldogs battle Wes Miller's crew at Fifth Third Arena this Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+. One prior meeting is in the history books, with UC beating Alabama A&M 85-53 at home two seasons ago.

The SWAC team has been in college basketball's basement for a long time. They have won 10-plus games in a season just four times since 2010 but did post their best winning percentage since 2013-14 last year (6-9, 40% win rate).

The Bearcats are playing as well as they have in two years on the defensive end of the floor. That is bad news for a Bulldogs team that ranks 229th nationally in offensive efficiency (0.895 points per possession).

Cincinnati is displaying lockdown efficiency on their end of the court, holding teams to 0.79 points per possession, the 33rd best mark in the nation. Their depth and length (five rotation players checking in at 6-foot-7 or more) have been a big reason why they haven't allowed any 70-plus point showings so far.

Defensive rotations in the heat of battle and offensive energy are winning the day for Ohio. A&M sports a one-two punch offensive threat for them to worry about on Tuesday. Junior forward Jalen Johnson leads the team with 14 points per game, while junior guard Garrett Hicks checks in behind him at 13.5 PPG.

The Bulldogs are returning 96.5% of the scoring from last year's team, checking the experience box against Bearcats. How they'll utilize that experience remains to be seen. Hicks and Johnson have scored 42.6% of their team's points this season and collected 37% of A&M's rebounds.

Clamping down those two players will mean a rollicking night at Fifth Third Arena, but even if they hit those season averages the Bearcats have no excuse not to outclass the Bulldogs.

UC has shot the ball pretty poorly at all levels of the floor. Through two games, Cincinnati is hitting 42.4% of their shots (219th), 25.6% from deep (305th), and just 56.8% at the free-throw line (327th). Sound fundamentals are helping buoy the offensive ship.

The Bearcats rank eighth in turnovers (eight per game) and 125th in offensive rebounds per game (11.5). Mika Adams-Woods has been a big factor in the former, sporting a 9:1 assist-turnover ratio, good for 12th in the country.

Those shooting numbers can get a significant boost this week if the Bearcats keep working the ball through their deep backcourt while finding someone besides Viktor Lahkin to get hot. On the year, Lahkin (70%) is the only Bearcat shooting over 50% that's attempted at least five shots per game.

Lahkin should give Bulldogs big man E.J. Williams his biggest challenge yet. The 6-foot-10 Middletown HS grad is returning to the Queen City with one of the surprising storylines of this young season waiting for him.

Lahkin is third on the team in scoring (eight PPG) despite playing just 15 minutes per game as the first man off the bench. He is the only Bearcat averaging at least one point, block, rebound, steal, and assist per game.

The Russian has defined this team's chameleon style through two games, and a battle with KenPom's 329th ranked team awaits them.

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